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A colony of tents, or "chums", belonging to Nenets herders stand in the Arctic tundra in the Russian Nenets Autonomous Region. The  indigenous people of the Russian Arctic, their culture eroded under Soviet collectivization and now their land is endangered due to modern oil and gas exploration, February 2011.
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A colony of tents, or "chums", belonging to Nenets herders stand in the Arctic tundra in the Russian Nenets Autonomous Region. The culture of the indigenous people of the Russian Arctic eroded under Soviet collectivization and now their land is endangered due to modern oil and gas exploration, February 2011.Justin Jin
A colony of tents, or "chums", belonging to Nenets herders stand in the Arctic tundra in the Russian Nenets Autonomous Region. The  indigenous people of the Russian Arctic, their culture eroded under Soviet collectivization and now their land is endangered due to modern oil and gas exploration, February 2011.
Nenets, native people of the Russian Arctic region, herd reindeer in -40C (-40F) Displaced during the Stalin years of Soviet collectivization, now modern gas and oil exploration threaten their land. The herders sell reindeer meat to sausage factories and antlers to China for use as traditional medicine, February 2011.
Mass exodus from Arctic Russia
Car passes heating plant in Russian Arctic city
The flaring of gas is seen overhead at a drilling well in Novy Urengoi, Arctic Siberia, Russia, December 2014.
Driver of Arctic all-terrain vehical
A Russian worker at a drilling well in Yamal, Arctic Siberia, Russia, which has the world's largest gas deposit.
The Portovaya compressor station where Russian gas is compressed before it is piped across the Baltic Sea bed to supply energy to Europe. With sanctions over Russia's incursion into Ukraine and tumbling world energy prices, Russia’s economy has slowed, November 2014
Workers test a gas drilling site in Arctic Russia
. A Russian gas worker sprays steam to unfreeze pipes in Novy Urengoi, Arctic Siberia, Russia, December 2014.
A worker rubs snow during sauna at Arctic gas prospecting site
World’s largest gas field found near derelict Arctic Russian village
Miner walks past boarded-up apartment block outside Arctic city
Mass exodus from Arctic Russia
Mass exodus from Arctic Russia
Fighter jet monument sits above Russian Arctic city
A colony of tents, or "chums", belonging to Nenets herders stand in the Arctic tundra in the Russian Nenets Autonomous R
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Justin Jin
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Documenting the Hard Life in Russia's Frozen Arctic

Jul 01, 2015
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The Soviet Union was known for its doublespeak, but when Moscow bureaucrats called the 7,000-km area of the Russian Arctic the “zone of absolute discomfort,” they were speaking the truth. Temperatures in the settlements of the far north, which spans from Alaska to Finland, can dip below –45°C in the winter. Living conditions are wretched, which is one reason Stalin used these towns as gulags. Descendants of some of the prisoners still live in these Arctic communities. Among the people who seem adapted to the conditions are the indigenous herders known as Nenets, who live in tents called chums.

Yet there are billions of tons of oil and natural gas locked beneath the permafrost—a fact that has drawn a new wave of workers to the Arctic, as the photographer Justin Jin documents. It’s not an easy place to work as a photographer—Jin once got frostbite from the cold metal of his camera pressed against his face—but the material is worth it. “The Arctic is like a blank sheet on which you could see all the tensions of Russia played out,” says Jin, who has worked in Russia for years. “You have the extreme expanse of space, the endless nature, the riches trapped in the tundra. It’s all the contradictions and juxtapositions of Russia.”

Justin Jin is a documentary photographer based in Belgium.

Bryan Walsh is TIME's Foreign Editor.

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